Jake Arrieta does plenty to help the Cubs win every day that he takes the ball, now he’s helping them win by launching 440’ bombs with his bat. It seems that the reigning CY Young award winner can do no wrong as he tossed seven strong innings in Arizona, and smacked a two-run dinger to propel the Cubs to a 7-3 victory on Sunday. Thanks in part to the Arrieta bomb the Cubs built an early 3-0 lead before seeing the Diamondbacks square up a few balls, something that is definitely rare against Jake. A home run from Paul Goldschmidt started a two run third inning, and a solo shot from Socrates Brito evened things at three.
Jorge Soler owns Shelby Miller, and he got him again yesterday as hit a sky scraping solo shot to give the Cubs a 4-3 lead in the sixth en route to a 7-3 win. Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez were fantastic out of the pen to allow the Cubs to push their record to a sterling 5-1 on the young season as they head back to Chicago for the home opener tonight.
The bullpen is a tricky thing, from year to year guys come and go, and every once in a while a team boasts a dominant bullpen relatively out of nowhere. Off-season acquisitions, and power arms marinating on the farm are usually catalysts for such success, but injuries, and unforeseen ineffectiveness can derail the pen quickly. Given the large number of variables that go into predicting the success of a bullpen it’s usually an exercise in futility, but here goes… The Cubs’ bullpen has a chance to be dominant (They all do! You’re screaming), well, let’s just look at the options, shall we?
The Cubs have a solid core group of guys coming back this year, which could point to a reasonable amount of success in 2016. I base this mostly on the fact that the Cubs had the 8th best bullpen ERA in the Majors last year, and names like Brian Schlitter, Rafael Soriano, Edwin Jackson (wasn’t too terrible in this role), Gonzalez Germen, and Phil Coke were members of said pen. To be fair, guys like Trevor Cahill, and Travis Wood exceeded expectations in rather unfamiliar bullpen roles last year, and it wouldn’t be crazy to think that they will come back down to Earth a bit. The fact remains though, the best arms out of that Cubs pen are back this year, and there really is no reason to expect a significant drop in performance. Let’s break down the possible bullpen roles, yes, despite the crazy competition that will be taking place this spring.
Closer – Hector Rondon
Set up – Pedro Strop
Set up – Justin Grimm
Middle Relief – Adam Warren (acquisition) (Rotation Chance)
Middle Relief – Rex Brothers (acquisition)
Middle Relief – Neil Ramirez
Long Relief – Travis Wood
Long Relief – Trevor Cahill (Rotation chance)
On paper… on paper, that looks pretty darn good, and obviously as I write this I’m using the most optimistic thoughts as possible. A big key here is the health of Neil Ramirez, he was outstanding in 2014, and parts of 2015 when he wasn’t battling back from injuries, a healthy Ramirez goes a long way towards a great 2016. Adam Warren proves to be an upgrade over guys that the Cubs had to turn to last year in tough spots, like Jason Motte (again, ignore the injuries for the sake of this conversation). There is also a chance that Warren will have an opportunity to win a rotation spot, but guys with flexibility are all the rage for Joe Maddon. Rex Brothers, who was dominate in 2013, and struggled mightily in 2014, looks to bounce back, and if he does proves to be another rather large upgrade. Young arms like Carl Edwards Jr., Duane Underwood Jr., and Pierce Johnson could also make an impact in the Cubs pen this year despite being starters while working their way through the organization, save for Edwards Jr. last year.
The talent pool is better than last year, and the depth is better as well, those two things put the Cubs in a good spot to start the spring. If injuries pop up, like they absolutely will, the Cubs are in a better position to handle them, and still might have a few new additions that could surprise during camp, and win a job.
Travis Wood was dominant all night long as the lefty shut down the Reds, and led the Cubs to a 5-0 victory to take the series. It didn’t take long for the Cubs to grab a lead as Anthony Rizzo blasted his first home run of the season in the first, a majestic two-run shot to right. The Cubs flashed the leather all night behind Wood, Starlin Castro in particular, he made two outstanding plays to help preserve the shut out, and the lead. The only bad news in this one was an injury to Neil Ramirez, the right-hander left after just three pitches in the ninth inning. Ramirez will go for an MRI tomorrow, the initial diagnosis is right shoulder discomfort, that doesn’t sound great. First place!
At the Plate:
- Dexter Fowler is proving to be a solid lead-off hitter for the Cubs, he was 2-for-4 with a walk, a double, and two runs scored.
- Anthony Rizzo finally got on the board with a dinger, he was 1-for-4 with said homer, a walk, two RBI’s, and a run scored.
- Jorge Soler continued his production, he was 1-for-3 with a walk, and an RBI.
- Starlin Castro had an outstanding game, he was 2-for-3 with a walk, a double, and a run scored.
Rizzo goes way back!
On the Mound:
- All Travis Wood tonight, stellar. He worked seven scoreless innings, giving up just three hits while walking two and striking out seven.
- Phil Coke worked a solid scoreless inning in relief.
- Neil Ramirez got hurt in the ninth, so Brian Schlitter had to close it out, he worked a scoreless inning, giving up one hit while striking out one.
I’m so glad the Cubs didn’t cancel the season after Sunday, because that was fun. It was a pitchers day at Wrigley, but I’m not sure if 80 degrees and sun would have mattered as Jake Arrieta, and Lance Lynn were brilliant. Luckily for the Cubs, Arrieta was better, but not by much. Both guys were dealing, and the winning run came as a result of a hit batter, and a wild throw on a pick-off, go figure. After Rizzo was hit by a pitch in the 7th, and advanced to second on said wild pick-off, Starlin Castro delivered the game winning single, it was a super lazy single though…
Back to Arrieta, early on he didn’t have his best stuff as he had to battle through trouble in the first and third inning before settling into a groove. Arrieta worked seven scoreless innings, giving up three hits while walking three, and striking out seven en route to his first win of the season. For the second straight game the Cubs bullpen displayed just how dangerous they could be, dangerous in a good way, not a Carlos Marmol way. Phil Coke, Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop, and Hector Rondon combined to pitch the last two innings with Rondon picking up his first save of the season.
It was still exciting, it was cool to get the national exposure on opening night, it sucked getting shut out, it is what it is. Jon Lester struggled with his command early and often, and the Cubs couldn’t find a clutch hit all night in a 3-0 loss to the Cardinals. A little more about not being clutch, the Cubs were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position tonight, no bueno. Conversely the Cardinals went 3-got-14 and that was the difference. Wainwright was his usual self, but had trouble with his breaking pitches early on which drove up his pitch count. Waino was able to work his way through six innings to get the win. Lester took the loss in this one as he wasn’t able to escape the 5th inning, he gave up three runs on eight hits, while walking two, and striking out five.
One of the bright spots of the evening was the Cubs bullpen, Phil Coke, Jason Motte, Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop, and Hector Rondon combined to work 4.2 scoreless inning, giving up two hits while waking two, and striking out five. I was happy with the at bats the Cubs players had tonight, not many of them were thrown away, they battled. You’re not going to face a pitcher the caliber of Wainwright every night , tip you cap and go take your frustrations out on Lance Lynn on Tuesday Night. One down, one hundred and sixty one to go, I still think there will be more good than bad, but can someone kidnap Heyward and send him to the Indians or something? All in all I think the new look/unfinished Wrigley held up well, I’m sure we will hear some horror stories from fans tomorrow, but on the surface it looked good.
The young Cubs provided the fireworks early against the Giants before the bullpen couldn’t find away to get outs, and blew a 5-0 lead en route to an 8-6 loss. It was a lineup that had Cubs fans buzzing, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber, oh my. It was Schwarber who did the heavy lifting as he jacked a grand slam in his first at bat, giving the Cubs an early 4-0 lead. The Cubs pitching made that hold up early on as Jacob Turner, and Pierce Johnson were on top of their game, Johnson was particularly impressive.
At the plate:
- Kyle Schwarber was the star at the plate going 1-for-3 with said grand slam.
- Jorge Soler hit a number of balls hard, he finished the day 1-for-3 with a run scored.
- Billy McKinney came on late and went deep, he finished the day 1-for-1 with an RBI.
- Kris Bryant went 0-for-2 with a walk, and a run scored.
- Addison Russell was 1-for-3 with a run scored.
- Albert Almora didn’t start but finished the day 2-for-2, good to see.
On the mound:
- Jacob Turner got the start, and battled command early, he worked two scoreless innings, giving up one hit while walking two, and striking out one.
- Pierce Johnson was outstanding, he worked two scoreless innings, giving up no hits while walking one, and striking out one.
- Corey Black struggled, he worked one inning, giving up one run on one hit while walking two, and hitting Hunter Pence, breaking his forearm, ouch.
- Hunter Cervenka was worse, he was only able to register one out, he gave up five runs, four earned, on four hits while walking two.
A tie. The Cubs and A’s tied today. Mike Olt got the offense off and running early as he blasted a two-out, two-run bomb. Unfortunately that was all the Cubs could muster as they went scoreless the rest of the way while scratching out only five hits. The pitching was outstanding as Travis Wood, Neil Ramirez, and Drake Britton, among others, shut down the Athletics offense.
At the plate:
- MIKE OLT! Olt finished theday 1-for-2 with a home run, and two RBI.
- Chris Coghlan was 1-for-1 with a run scored.
- Newcomer Miguel Montero was 1-for-2 in the tie.
On the mound:
- Travis Wood got the start, and was flawless. Wood worked two scoreless innings giving up no hits, walking none while striking out two.
- Neil Ramirez was stupid good per usual. Ramirez worked one scoreless inning while striking out two.
- Drake Britton was pretty good in his first audition for a bullpen spot. Britton worked a scoreless inning, giving up one hit.
- Gonzalez Germen had the plate jump around a bit, but he was fairly effective. Germen worked two scoreless innings, giving up one hit while walking two, and striking out two.
Solid pitching? Check. Just enough hitting? Check.
It seems simple, but the Cubs have played some solid baseball over the past 90 games (45-45 before tonight), and they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down with their latest win in Cincinnati tonight, their fourth straight. Travis Wood found his 2013 magic against his former employer, he worked six scoreless innings, giving up just two hits, while walking one, and striking out five. The Cubs pen shut, no, slammed the door once again, as Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop, and Hector Rondon were lights out. Wood picked up his eighth win of the season, and Rondon registered his 22nd save of the year.
Offensively the Cubs got started in the first, and that was all they needed. Anthony Rizzo hit an absolute bomb off of Cy Young candidate Johnny Cueto in the first, it was his 30th home run of the season, that’s impressive. Starlin Castro returned from the bereavement list tonight, and picked up right where he left off, he went 2-for-4 in the win. Arismendy Alcantara joined the fun late, as he blasted a two-run shot to give the Cubs some insurance in the seventh.
Get ready for Jorge Soler, he debuts tomorrow!
Note: Anthony Rizzo left the game late with some back tightness, he should be fine.